§ Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
§ Order for Third Reading read.11.51 am
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I am delighted that this important Bill, which I have the honour to promote, has got so far through its proceedings as to have reached Third Reading by the middle of March. I hope that the House will agree to Third Reading today so that the Bill will proceed to another place, where I hope that it will have as easy a passage.
I am grateful to all who have supported the Bill, sponsors and others alike, and to those who were kind enough to attend the Committee stage and to give me their wholehearted support throughout proceedings on the Bill. I am delighted to see one of the Bill's sponsors here this morning—the Opposition Chief Whip——
§ Mr. Jopling
Ah. My mind had jumped ahead to what will inevitably happen in the fullness of time. The hon. Gentleman has all the talent and judgment to ensure that one day he follows in the distinguished footsteps of another north-east Member who currently holds the post. In any event, I am most grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support; I know that it is difficult for Members in the Whips' Office to associate themselves with a particular Bill, so I am doubly grateful for his support.
I came 16th in the ballot for private Members' Bills. That meant that I had to think quite hard about what kind of Bill I proposed to introduce. When one comes 16th, one cannot hope to have the first slot on one of the Fridays set aside for private Members' Bills. Inevitably one will have the third slot. Therefore, there is little opportunity of a long debate on the Bill, particularly if one chooses a contentious issue. I concluded that it would be far better to try to present a Bill that was modest but helpful, was above all uncontentious and was one which the House could readily accept for the general good.
Only once before have I been in the position of moving the Third Reading of a private Members' Bill. In the late 1960s, when you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I were mere boys in the House, I came 18th in the ballot. I decided then that I would raise a non-contentious issue that would help the general public. Therefore, I decided to help parish councils, of which there are dozens in my constituency. I have always hesitated to give the title of that Bill—the Parish Councils and Burial Authorities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. It became an Act and it did useful and helpful things for parish councils. I devised that Bill with the help of the parish councils association.
Having come 16th this Session, I thought that I could do nothing more helpful than preserve and encourage the use and sale of efficient safety equipment for children in motor cars. Many people believe that it is completely safe for children to travel on the back seat of a car or on an adult's lap. However, unrestrained children can be thrown through the windscreen or on to the dashboard in an accident even at speeds as low as 25 mph. The staggering statistics are that 60 children are killed and more than 900 are seriously injured in such accidents each year. 549 Restraints have reduced the risk of injury by two thirds. It is obviously a worthwhile aim to strengthen the measures that have already been taken to ensure that fewer children are killed and injured in car accidents.
§ Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford)
Does my right hon. Friend accept that some parents hold their children on their laps when sitting in the rear seats in cars, not simply because they may not have a child car seat suitable for that child, but because they might find it inconvenient to fit such a car seat which they may already possess, but which is somewhere else? Does he agree that the practice adopted by Volvo of building a child car seat into the car should be adopted more widely by other car manufacturers?
§ Mr. Jopling
I did not know that Volvo fitted such seats, but we often find that the Swedes are innovators in these areas. My hon. Friend has described a most worthwhile development and I hope that his comments will be noted by other motor manufacturers.
A little earlier I referred to the easy progress that the Bill has received through Parliament. That shows that it is not a party-political matter and no one has attempted, quite rightly, to use it in that way. The provisions that I propose are aimed at improving further the safety of child passengers in motor vehicles. Children are perhaps the most vulnerable of all car occupants. They are more easily thrown about and seriously injured when they have the misfortune to be involved in an accident.
In general, the Bill enables the Secretary of State for Transport to make regulations to control the sale and hire of safety equipment for children so that only equipment that conforms with British or international safety standards can be used to protect children in the event of an accident. Also, retailers will have to ensure that appropriate information about the installation and use of such equipment is provided with the equipment at the point of sale. That is important. We want to ensure that when a car owner purchases equipment he is told how properly to fit it into the car. There is no point in hazarding life or injury by such equipment being wrongly fitted. The equipment that would be designated by regulations under the Bill is intended directly or indirectly to restrain a child in the event of an accident.
The problem is that the present regulations control the sale only of child restraints that are considered to be vehicle parts. That deals with the problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) raised in relation to direct restraints that are directly attached to vehicles. One difficulty is that equipment such as booster cushions and carrycots which comply with the standards do not fall into that category. Although the use of such equipment could be regulated by statutory instruments, all ordinary cushions—that is, cushions that are not specifically made to avoid injury to children in accidents—and carrycots would be banned from vehicles. It would be unacceptable to ban ordinary cushions and carrycots. One could not justify such an action on safety grounds. That is why it is necessary to have this amending Bill. The Bill will make it possible to control the sale of all types of child safety equipment designed to protect children in motor vehicles.
After the Bill was considered in Committee the only argument was whether we had taken 50 or 20 seconds. The Chairman, an hon. Member from north Wales whose 550 constituency I cannot immediately remember—it is a Welsh name that I cannot pronounce—managed to conclude our business so quickly that I was not able to explain in detail just what the Bill would do. It would be helpful if I mentioned some of the matters that I would have explained on that occasion.
Clause 1 provides that it should be a criminal offence for a person to sell or to offer for sale certain types of equipment that are conducive to child safety unless that equipment satisfies the requirements prescribed by the regulations. The clause introduces a new section 15A to the Road Traffic Act 1988, which will be similar to the existing provisions that control the sale of motor cycle helmets. Lest anyone should accuse me of not declaring my interests, I must point out that I currently have the honour of being the president of the Auto-Cycle Union, which is this country's governing body for all motor cycle sport. It is naturally concerned about safety and has established strong regulations covering helmets and other safety equipment for motor cycle sport.
The types of equipment that would be designated by the regulations provided for in clause 1 would be those which, in some way, directly or indirectly, are intended to restrain a child in the event of an accident. Such equipment would include the types of child seat belts or booster cushions that are restrained solely by adult seat belts, as well as those that have their own straps for attachment to the vehicle. I am sure that the House knows that it is possible to use adult safety straps for certain types of child safety equipment. In certain circumstances, that can be an effective way of restraining children, especially young children.
The regulations would allow the sale of all types of child safety equipment, but only if they are approved to the relevant British standard as well as to the United Nations ECE regulation 44, or to the equivalent European Community directive. I understand that the Commission in Brussels is currently working on such a directive and I very much hope that it will soon emerge and be adopted.
The Road Traffic Act 1988 does not contain any powers for controlling the sale of all child safety equipment, hence the need for my Bill. Section 41 of that Act enables the Secretary of State for Transport to make regulations generally covering the use of motor vehicles and trailers on roads, their construction, and the equipment and conditions under which they may be used. Section 42 makes it an offence for a person to use on a road a motor vehicle or trailer that does not comply with the regulations, or who causes or permits a vehicle to be so used. Section 76(3) makes it an offence for a person to supply a motor vehicle part that, if fitted to a vehicle that is in use on the roads, would lead to a breach of the construction and use requirements.
Those provisions are, therefore, of no assistance in controlling the sale of booster cushions and other types of child restraint that could not be described as "vehicle parts".
Under another statutory instrument, if the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 were amended to make it an offence to use a vehicle on a road if a child was sitting on any cushion other than one which complied with the British safety regulations, it would become illegal to use a car in which a child was sitting, for example, on a normal household cushion. I believe, and it is the view of the Government, that that would be 551 unacceptable to the general public. I am advised by the Department that it could not be justified on safety grounds.
The present construction and use regulations require in section 47(8) that seat belts be marketed with a British standard mark or designated approved mark. The British standard mark is defined in paragraph 8 and includes, for example, a mark specified in BSAU 185 which is the appropriate British standard on booster cushions. That led both the trade and the Department to believe that all child restraint equipment, including booster cushions and carrycots, had to comply with the regulations. However, it became apparent to the Department's legal advisers that the provisions were defective for equipment that is not permanently attached to the vehicle and consequently cannot be described as part of the vehicle. That defect has not been corrected so far because it may, understandably, cause alarm in the trade which has spent a great deal of money on bringing its equipment up to the specification of British or European standards.
To correct the defect could also be seen by the public as a climbdown by Parliament on child safety. However, I am pleased to say that if the Bill receives its Third Reading today and passes on to the statute book, it will be possible to make regulations that will effectively remedy the position. That is the principal reason why the Bill has had such a universal welcome and why it is so appropriate.
The Bill will also ensure that consumers are provided with appropriate information at the point of sale about the suitability of equipment for specific weights of children and, in certain cases, the vehicle models for which the restraint is designed. Current standards require that full instructions on fitting and use be provided with the restraints and it is intended to reflect that in the regulations which the Government will undoubtedly readily bring to the House once the Bill is on the statute book. In that way, the regulations will make it an offence to provide inadequate or incorrect information at the point of sale. That will help to ensure that child restraints are correctly installed, so enhancing child safety.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
It is implicit in my right hon. Friend's important Bill that there are two distinct types of restraining equipment and cushions. Would it be an offence for people to use improper equipment as well as to sell improper equipment, which will be an offence under his Bill?
§ Mr. Jopling
I can sum that up best—my hon. Friend the Minister will endorse my understanding of the Bill, if he agrees—by saying that the Bill will not make it an offence, for example, to sit a child on a household cushion. A small child protected by a normal adult safety belt can easily slip underneath and have an unpleasant accident. If a child sits on a cushion, it increases the safety factor, even though the cushion may not be specially designated as suitable under the Bill. It is a classic case of not throwing the baby out with the bath water.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
On several occasions during his remarks my right hon. Friend has said that this is a question of restricting the sale of equipment. Will he confirm for the benefit of those who happen to read his 552 speech in Hansard that it will not be possible to evade the Bill's requirements by hiring equipment? Will he confirm that the Bill applies to hiring as well as to selling?
§ Mr. Jopling
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill, which he will understand as well as I do, explains the Bill clearly in layman's language, and certainly I am a layman in these matters. The final sentence about clause 1 states:Provision is made for equipment let on hire and equipment offered for sale or hire.Therefore, my hon. Friend's point is well and truly covered by the Bill.
Clause 2 allows for a person who is accused of an offence under the Bill to mount a defence on the basis that the infringement was due to the act or default of another person, where another person has given a written warranty. Consequently, it provides for another person to be accused of an offence. I gather that the provision already exists in the Road Traffic Act 1988 in respect of similar offences of selling equipment that is not of a prescribed type.
The House will understand that clause 1 provides for the Secretary of State to require that appropriate information is given with the prescribed equipment at the time of sale, particularly with regard to fitting that equipment. The Bill allows for the possibility that manufacturers or wholesalers may have supplied retailers with inappropriate or incorrect information. Therefore, it allows retailers to mount a defence if they can prove that they have been supplied with incorrect information, had a warranty to the effect that it was correct and had no reason to believe that it was incorrect. In certain cases they would also need to show that the equipment and the information with it had remained unchanged while in their possession. Clause 2 further provides that a person who gives a false warranty to the original accused may be accused of an offence. That explains the largest part of the Bill.
Clause 3 sets out the offence and the penalty provided by the Bill and any attendant regulations. The level of fine is in line with that for similar offences under the Road Traffic Act 1988 of selling equipment which is not of a prescribed type. We are amending the 1988 Act to provide for the new offences that are created by my Bill.
The level 3 fine on the standard scale is currently £400 and the Criminal Justice Bill contains provisions to update the level to £1,000.
Clause 4 contains the short title and states, as does the Road Traffic Act 1988, that the measure shall not apply to Northern Ireland. I hope that I shall not be asked why it should not apply to that part of the United Kingdom because I should have to admit that I did not have the faintest idea.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I was about to ask my right hon. Friend that very question. Perhaps the Minister will explain the reason when he replies to the debate.
§ Mr. Jopling
A mine of information, deeper and more extensive than I, will no doubt explain the reason in due course. I suppose that the logic is that if the voluminous 1988 Act that we are amending does not apply to Northern Ireland, my new amending piece of legislation should not apply to it.
I hope that I have given a clear explanation of the need for my Bill. It is with pride that I commend it to the House. 553 It is modest, but I hope that in agreeing to it, the House will, in the years to come, save a large number of children from unnecessary death and serious injury.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I support the Bill and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) on introducing a most important measure. It is amazing to think that we have not legislated before on the important issue with which the Bill deals. I missed the first few minutes of my right hon. Friend's speech, for which I apologise, so I am not sure whether he gave figures to show the true picture of the extent of death and injury caused to youngsters who were not properly restrained in cars.
I was fortunate to get on to the statute book last year a measure dealing with the provision of protective headgear for riders under the age of 14. My Horses (Protective Headgear for Young Riders) Act is similar in concept to my right hon. Friend's measure, in that it is designed to protect children from danger. The research I did on my measure revealed that a substantial number of accidents involved children riding. Something had to be done about that. and I am sure that similar considerations form the background to my right hon. Friend's Bill.
It is illegal for children under 18 to travel in the front seat of a vehicle.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
I am not really in a position to correct my hon. Friend, because my sphere is more wills and tax than the criminal law. But I understood that it was illegal for a child to travel in the front of a car without being properly restrained.
§ Mr. Greenway
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting me right. I would regard it as the gravest offence for a parent or someone transporting children to allow a child to travel unrestrained in a vehicle.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale referred to seat belts being used to restrain children in cars, but I am thinking of baby seats that are sold to the public. Many of the straps are complex—and ineffective because they can slip. The Bill would do something about that—the seats would have to fit snugly into the car and the straps would have to be comfortable for the children who are restrained. The straps should also be non-slip and be designed so that a child could not slip out or be thrown around while being driven. That is an important consideration for the health and comfort of children.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale mentioned booster cushions. It was valuable for the House and for the implementation of what I am sure will soon be an Act that he drew a distinction between booster cusions and house cushions. I am sure that people will never be stopped from doing this, but people often run from their house and push a cushion under a child so that he can sit more comfortably. I am glad that that will not become more difficult under the Bill.
I stress that pram cots, which can be lifted from their perambulator bases and frames, should also be included in the Bill, although perhaps not by name. Carrycots are 554 named in the Bill, and pram tops are the equivalent to carrycots for many parents. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that, but I hope that the Bill means that pram tops and carrycots cannnot be placed on the rear seat of a car so that they could slip forwards.
Perhaps that cannot be written into the Bill legally because it would be too complex, but I hope that prams and carrycots could be required to have a non-slip base and that parents could be pressed into putting them on flat surfaces so that they cannot slip. Unfortunately pram tops and carrycots can slide about, which has obvious dangers.
I hope that the Bill will be passed as quickly as possible. It is vital that we safeguard children's safety in all forms of vehicles and the Bill will do just that. I congratulate my right hon. Friend once again and wholeheartedly support the Bill.
§ Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)
First, I am delighted that, fortuitously—because my Licensing Reform Bill is to be discussed later today, I happened to be in London—I saw that this valuable Bill was due for consideration.
I support the Bill wholeheartedly not only because—like the majority of hon. Members—I have an interest in road safety and in reducing the casualties on our roads—particularly child casualties—but because I have a five-year-old son. For the past five years, I have struggled with the complexities of fitting the appropriate child safeguards into the back of our two cars. The after-sales service and guidance that my wife and I have been able to glean from the sellers of those appliances has been poor, to say the least. We have certainly not been provided with specific advice on the type of equipment that is appropriate for various ages and weights of children. The Bill will improve the efficiency of the retailers of such child safety appliances, so that the after-sales service and the guidance that they give parents on such an important topic is dramatically improved.
It is normally part of my political philosphy to liberalise, to deregulate and to ensure that the Government allow citizens to make as many important decisions as possible on various aspects of their lives, but there is no doubt that legislation relating to safety and seat belts is desirable. Since 1973, tens of thousands of lives have been saved and tens of thousands of injuries avoided through the wearing of seat belts.
I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) who introduced the Bill that requires the wearing of seat belts by children under 14 in the back seats of cars, which came into operation on 1 September 1989. On 28 March 1990, the then Minister for Roads and Traffic issued a press release which said that, even within the six months from September 1989, there was conclusive evidence that no fewer than 200 young people had their lives saved, or had avoided serious injury, as a result of that Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) is seeking to extend the scope of that Bill, and I believe that the effects of that will be equally valuable.
I urge the Government to consider further incentives, such as advertising campaigns or possibly grants, to encourage people to fit rear safety belts. In 1990, 43 per cent. of cars still did not possess rear safety belts. The 555 Government should consider ways of encouraging people to fit such safety belts in older cars produced before 1987 so that the Bill can also apply to them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) asked about the statistics on the wearing of safety belts by children in cars. In 1989, the latest year for which figures are available, no fewer than 10,000 child passengers suffered injury or death as a result of car accidents. No fewer than 908 of them suffered serious injuries and 59 were killed. Statistics for the same year also show that, of the 10,000 children who were injured, 4,864 were injured in cars in which there were no seat belts, or, if available, they were not worn by the children. No fewer than 34 children were killed in cars when they were not wearing seat belts or those belts were not available. Those figures represent a serious problem, and one which the Bill will address.
There is no doubt that parents now appreciate the wisdom of various child seat restraints. Between 1988 and 1989, the sales of such restraints rose by 30 per cent. The market for original seat belt fittings—those fitted at the point of manufacture—is worth £35 million a year. The market for fitting safety belts in those cars that started life without them is worth £50 million a year. Of that £85 million, no less than 75 per cent. relates specifically to restraints made for children. The market is valuable, and hence this is a valuable Bill.
As I have said, the after-sales service that manufacturers and retailers gave parents leaves much to be desired. The fact that the Bill requires British and European standards must improve the after-sales service. I applaud that requirement.
In an article in the April-June 1990 edition of Good Motoring magazine entitled "Safety Matters", David Williams, the road safety officer for the Guild of Motorists, said:For children under 12 months, a 'suitable restraint' is either a rear facing infant carrier or a carrycot which is held in place in the car by straps. As soon as the baby is strong enough to sit up—normally 6–9 months—an approved child safety seat can also be used. A 'suitable restraint' for children aged from one year to three years is a child safety seat, a child harness, or an adult seat belt used in conjunction with an approved booster cushion. Children above this age, up to 13 years, may wear any rear seat belt which may be fitted, but once again for smaller children it is safer to use the seat belt with a booster cushion to ensure the belt fits correctly across the child's shoulder and hips.I apologise for that long quotation, but it illustrates the enormous variety of equipment available and the way in which it matches children's weights and ages. When I bought a child car seat five years ago, I was never informed about the variety of equipment but was simply sold a child bucket seat that was meant to be appropriate for children from the age of three months to nine years, which seemed to be an enormous age span. My active young son did not always find it comfortable. Therefore, it sometimes became loose, which could have been fatal in a serious accident. If the Bill brings about a better after-sales and information service for parents, it will do much to reduce child casualties on the roads.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
My hon. Friend might wish to comment on that aspect of child bearing. When one takes a baby home from hospital for the first time with no instructions on the packaging, it could be helpful if hospitals informed 556 parents of first-born children about safety restraints. The first occasion on which parents must consider how to bring up a child is often when they take it home from hospital so hospitals could play a role in that respect.
§ Mr. Coombs
That good advice is particularly apposite in my case. My son, Alexander, was born in the middle of the heaviest snow fall in the west midlands for five years, and my wife and I had to drive him home in conditions that were not generally regarded as ideal. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with that matter when he replies.
Many safety improvements could be put in train by car manufacturers, such as improving the cushioning on steering wheels, which cause serious chest injuries in crashes. Other improvements could include better side and front impact protection, which often affects children and, even more important for children, better seating. The front seats of many cars have insufficient padding which if a child restraint does not work, can mean potentially serious consequences. Changes should be made on the basis of EC directives and national regulations, given the trade in cars and the increasing movement of foreigners and of British people to and from Europe through the channel tunnel.
The manufacturers have a great role to play in making safety improvements which will complement the aims of the Bill. Volvo, as other hon. Members have mentioned, already makes a significant marketing play of the framework of its cars in selling them on the ground of safety. I wish Volvo well, even though it is not a British manufacturer. I hope that many British manufacturers will follow Volvo's example.
It is incumbent on the Government to urge car manufacturers to incorporate child restraints in the original design of cars. If they do, they should give sufficient instructions to parents on fitting. If Jaguar can provide a tape cleaner that is specific to Jaguar, there is no reason why other manufacturers cannot provide child restraints that are specific to their cars, and all the safer for that.
Magistrates courts should be made aware of the concern of the House and of the nation as a whole about irresponsible drivers who drive too fast or too recklessly, endangering not only their own lives, but those of child passengers. In 1989, there were no fewer than 7,000 prosecutions and convictions for failing to wear a safety belt. There is a strong case for courts to be required to take into account, on the advice of the Lord Chancellor, whether there were children in the car at the time and whether there were children who were not wearing safety belts even though they were provided. That would cause irresponsible drivers and irresponsible parents some moments of reflection on the consequences of their irresponsible driving on innocent victims—their own children in their own cars. That would be an important and worthwhile measure. I once again congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale on what I am sure will be a valuable measure when it is undoubtedly enacted.
§ Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) on choosing so valuable a measure to bring before the House. In 100 years, it may be difficult to see what most of us have 557 achieved in the House. However, it will be easy to see what my right hon. Friend has achieved. If the Bill is enacted, he will have saved the lives of a significant number of children. I can think of no better or greater achievement. I suspect that my right hon. Friend will have many other achievements by which he will be remembered, but he should be especially proud of the Bill.
Experience has shown that the saga of seat belts for children has been useful and valuable. Many people used to say that it was impossible to force children to wear seat belts in the back of cars. In saying that, they were overstating their case. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) introduced legislation on the issue. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs), I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle for what he achieved.
The question is not whether one should try to force one's child to wear a seat belt. In the child's mind, the question is whether it is normal to wear a seat belt. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) introduced valuable legislation on headgear for riding. In that case, too, the question was not whether one should force people to wear headgear when they went riding but whether one should encourage them to do so and whether it was normal and acceptable for them to do so. My hon. Friend's Bill was valuable in the same way as the present Bill is valuable. Normality rules children's lives in a way that we as adults may not fully understand. If I drive a car—perhaps on a private field—without wearing a seat belt, I feel uncomfortable; I feel wrong. I know that my four-year-old son also feels wrong if he travels in a car without wearing a seat belt. Far from having to be forced to wear his seat belt, he reminds me to do it up properly. When I have done his seat belt up, he makes me put on my own seat belt when I get into the driving seat—he is a right little Hitler. He now feels that wearing a seat belt )s as natural as my turning the steering wheel; it is something that goes with driving. I welcome the Bill because it will normalise the wearing of seat belts.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to answer my questions without any difficulty. The Government have set themselves a target of reducing road casualties by about a third by the year 2000. How does Britain's record compare with those of other countries in Europe? I believe that our road casualties are much lower than in many of them. My hon. Friend the Minister looks extremely confident about that.
The Bill will contribute only partially to reducing road casualties. What other steps do the Government propose to take—for example, to improve vehicle design? My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest said that casualties could be reduced significantly through better side impact protection. Perhaps early agreement can be reached in the European Community to introduce new measures as quickly as possible. We could have safer steering wheels, car fronts less dangerous to pedestrians and so on. If other member states opposed such new measures, it could be pointed out to them that our record is a great deal better than any of theirs.
Recently, I visited Israel and I had one of the most terrifying few days that I have had in my life—not because I was afraid of Scud attacks, although it was the middle of January, but because some of the driving on Israeli roads is terrifying. Perhaps the Israelis' driving methods and safety regulations are merely different from ours, but they could well learn a lesson from Britain, as could many of 558 the European Community countries. Safer cars should be introduced as soon as possible, and my right hon. Friend's Bill makes a valuable contribution.
I mentioned Volvo's incorporation of child seats in its vehicles. The name "Volvo" has now been mentioned four times in the debate and that may encourage other car manufacturers, who may realise that some good advertising is to be had from the introduction of good safety measures because the name of the product concerned is repeatedly mentioned in the House. I have no axe to grind. I am not a consultant for Volvo and I do not drive a Volvo. I drive a British car. Nevertheless, Volvo has introduced some significant safety measures and I hope that other manufacturers will follow its example and provide integrated child seats.
It has been suggested that car seats are sometimes not properly fitted by parents. I suspect that I have been guilty of that and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest suggested that he has also been guilty. Perhaps the Minister can offer advice to parents on how to ensure that safety restraints are correctly installed. I can imagine nothing worse than parents going out of their way to ensure that a child is not injured or, worse, killed by strapping the child as they think correctly, only to discover that they had not done it properly and that correct fitting would have resulted in no injury or at least reduced injury.
I understand that the Government intend soon to publish statistical information showing the involvement in road accidents of different car makes and models. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that. If such information is available will it take into account the fact that there are more Ford Sierras on the road than there are Lamborghinis? If it fails to take that into account Lamborghinis will be improperly low on a list of cars involved in road casualties and we could find most of the population rushing out to buy them! The survey must take into account the prevalence of certain makes of car.
§ The Minister for Shipping and Public Transport (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)
I join in the congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) on an important Bill. He told us that the Bill was 16th in the list. It was obviously his experience as a former Chief Whip that enabled him to make progress where ordinary hon. Members would not have stood a chance. That shows the advantage of such experience. It is unusual for a former Chief Whip, whose job is often to ensure that many private Bills do not reach the statute book, to promote such legislation. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on the cross-party support that he received from the three major parties in the House. I give credit to the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), who is in his place.
I shall deal with questions about the Bill before speaking about its provisions. My hon. Friends the Members for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) and for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) spoke about the effect that their children have on them when driving. I took my son to see his grandma. On our way back we were stopped by the police who wanted to make sure that we were wearing our seat belts. I am glad to say that my son was correctly restrained in the back seat. That spot check had a tremendous effect on him and every time that he is in the car he makes sure that his seat belt is on. If it is not 559 he thinks that he will go to prison. He also makes sure that I wear mine. There is a great deal that we need to get over to our children and if we get it over early enough, they will set an example and make sure that everybody else is restrained.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest spoke about the difficulties facing parents when they embark upon the process of fitting seat belts and restraints. He also spoke about the conflicting advice that is available. As I shall explain, the Bill will go a long way towards improving advice to parents and making sure that they fit the correct equipment. As my hon. Friend says, much equipment is available and sometimes information about it is not in the concise form that parents need to enable them to make the right decision. He is right that it is not a question of money. If a person has the wealth to own a car, he has the wealth to provide restraints and ensure that his children are properly strapped in the back and people are safe inside it. That is an important point. Small sums of money are involved compared with the capital outlay on a car. That is why, in answer to my hon. Friend's question, we do not believe that it is necessary to provide Government help towards installing restraints.
My hon. Friend asked about the Government's intention to reduce casualties by one third by the year 2000. There is potential to improve car occupant protection, for example by side impact protection and safer steering wheels. Children in cars, as well as adults, would benefit from that. Car fronts could be designed to make them safer to pedestrians, including child pedestrians. Lighting of vehicles and rider protection for motor cyclists could be improved. It is extraordinary that no motor cycle manufacturer offers leg protection as an option even for those who want to take advantage of it. We have calculated that, when widely introduced into the vehicle fleet, such measures could prevent a quarter of the deaths and serious injuries on the roads in European Community countries. My hon. Friend is right—that is our objective by the year 2000. As more traffic comes on to the roads it will be an even greater challenge. The Government want to meet that challenge, not resile from it.
§ Mr. Arbuthnot
Leg protecters on motor cycles may have disadvantages as well as advantages. They may make a motor cyclist more dangerous because he feels safter enclosed in a motor cycle and takes more risks. My right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, who is a fervent motor cyclist, could no doubt confirm that.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale has strong views on this matter. Manufacturers should provide leg protecters so that people have the choice. That is what we are talking about at the initial stage. I am impressed by what I have seen of the work being done to develop leg protecters that do not spoil the appearance of the motor cycle. I have received many letters from constituents on that issue. I shall not tempt my right hon. Friend by expanding on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford asked whether the Government intend to publish statistical information showing road casualties 560 involving different car makes. I confirm that the Government will shortly publish statistics on casualty rates showing the percentage represented by every make and model of car. They will be the first in a series of statistics and I hope they will help to raise motorists' consciousness of the importance of vehicle safety. I accept my hon. Friend's warnings about the Lamborghini factor. I assure him that we shall take account of the weightings and the use of cars so as not to confuse Lamborghinis with Ford Sierras.
I hope that I have answered the main questions. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) asked why Northern Ireland is not included in the Bill. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, this is an amendment to the Road Traffic Act 1988, which does not include Northern Ireland. Therefore, there is an exemption clause for Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway
Although it will be difficult, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and the Minister will consider what can be done about children travelling in horse-drawn vehicles. At present there are no safety measures to protect them. As the use of these vehicles is, I am glad to say, on the increase once again, it would be to the advantage of children if something were done on this score to prevent some of the accidents that are beginning to occur.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I know that my hon. Friend feels strongly about that and we may give it further consideration at some stage—but the Bill deals with motor vehicles.
§ Mr. Anthony Coombs
I may have been inattentive for a moment and missed the Minister dealing with this point, but even though it may not be directly related to the Bill or to the Minister's Department, it is important to remember my point about advice from the Lord Chancellor's Department to magistrates on how they should regard dangerous or careless driving of cars with child occupants, whether or not they are restrained. I profoundly believe that irresponsible people who drive carelessly or dangerously with children on board should be more severely punished by the courts, and I should be grateful if my hon. Friend passed on that message to the Lord Chancellor's Department.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I shall make sure that my hon. Friend's point is drawn to the attention of the appropriate quarters. Often it is not that parents are uncaring; they simply do not realise the dangers facing their children in the back of cars. I am sometimes horrified to see children standing between mother and father near the windscreen. If those cars had to brake suddenly, the consequences would be devastating. We must do as much as we can to put this message across, because the consequences of failure to understand it, as we know from the newspapers, are frequently tragic.
Despite the recent reduction in car passenger casualties due to the rapidly increasing use of seat belts in the rear as well as the front of cars, children remain especially vulnerable. More than 10,000 child passengers are injured each year; in the case of children under five, deaths and injuries inside cars represent as much as half of all deaths and injuries for the age group in all types of road accident.
561 The Government fully support the provisions of the Bill and believe that it will make an important contribution to improving the quality and use of child restraints. It will also ensure that the restraints that are sold are approved to well recognised and accepted safety standards. Provision is also being made requiring correct information on installation and use of the restraints provided. One of the best things that parents and others in charge of children can do to minimise the risk of injury is to ensure that they are sitting properly in proper child restraints for which full instructions on installation and use have been provided.
There has been a considerable improvement in the quality and range of child restraints in the past few years. Anyone who has been a parent of young children in that time will have noticed the improvement in what is available in the shops. Like my hon. Friends, I pay tribute to Volvo. The organisation Kwik Fit Euro Ltd. now fits child safety seats and I have used the organisation on a number of occasions. I am one of those who like to get in a car, turn the key and drive off; I do not understand what happens under the bonnet.
It is good that manufacturers are turning their attention to what can be done. Nevertheless the improvement in availability carries problems of its own. First, it is often hard to be sure what is the best equipment for a child. To minimise the risk of injury, not only should the correct restraint be used for a particular size and weight of child, but some restraints are more suitable for some cars than others. It is vital that that information is made properly available to parents. I understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest about the great variety of equipment available for children and specifically for different makes of car.
There is considerable evidence that many restraints are not properly installed. For example, if seat belts are too slack to provide proper protection in the event of an accident, that often appears to be the result of inadequate instructions to the parent. Although parents are now generally much more aware of the benefits of child restraints more needs to be done to explain the benefits of child restraints because far too many children are inadequately restrained, if restrained at all, when travelling. Recent measures in the House have helped in that respect and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Day) for being the motivating force behind recent legislation requiring the wearing of seat belts and restraints by children.
That legislation, introduced in September 1989, required children under the age of 14 to wear selt belts or appropriate child restraints in the rear of cars and taxis. As a result, the number of child restraints in rear seats has doubled. It is estimated that nearly 200 deaths or serious injuries were prevented in the first year that that legislation was in force. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle should take some credit for that.
562 Those measures represent part of the wider effort to reduce road casualties. As the House knows, we have set ourselves the target of reducing road casualties by one third between the mid-1980s and the year 2000. That is an ambitious target in the face of the increase in road traffic, but we have achieved considerable success. Deaths and serious injuries have continued to decrease despite the increase in road traffic. We must continue our efforts and a significant further improvement can be achieved by a range of improvements in vehicle design. I have already referred to vehicle design improvements; we pay tribute to the manufacturers making those improvements and we press other manufacturers to take similar action. I hope that the statistical information will give manufacturers a greater incentive to consider safety.
However, some of the measures require agreement within the European Community. In the past it has not been easy to secure that, partly, it seems, becasue there is insufficient general understanding of the potential benefits from improved car design. There has also been a rather curious argument that because most accidents are in some sense the responsibility of the driver, all the effort should be devoted to educating drivers into better driving habits rather than into improving car design. That is a rather fatuous argument. Of course, we need to put great efforts into improving driving habits, but improvements in vehicle design still have a vital role in reducing the consequences of driver error when it occurs.
In the past year or two, however, there seems to have been a welcome shift in public attitudes towards car safety. I pay tribute to the efforts of the Lex company in highlighting that issue in what has become a series of annual public attitude surveys. The Government's hope is that this increased public wish for safer roads and vehicles will translate itself into considerably swifter action in the European Community towards improvement in vehicle construction standards. The European Commission is already playing a part in that through its proposals on child restraints. However, there is a need to go further and urgently agree proposals on the other aspects of vehicle design that I have highlighted.
With the increased public awareness of the need for vehicle safety and the growing use of safety equipment for restraining children, the Bill has been introduced at a most appropriate time. It will build on the road safety improvements contained in the Road Traffic Act 1988 and provide a further measure for limiting casualties. The death or injury of a child in a road accident is tragic. It is our responsibility to do all that we can to prevent such tragedies. The Government are convinced that this welcome Bill will do just that.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.